Sept. 2, 2005
Discovering a country
Toronto filmmaker returns to find diverse cultures.
Susan Poizner left home to discover the world in 1985, when she
was 19. Feeling like her Jewish-Canadian upbringing hadn't exposed
her to enough diversity, she spent the next 17 years living, working
and travelling abroad. She sought out new cultures, role models
and a new place to call home. It took her almost two decades to
find it all, only to realize they were right where she'd left them,
Poizner traces her desire to leave and experience new cultures back
to conflicting feelings she experienced while growing up in the
Jewish community in Toronto.
"I was taught a lot of pride in my Jewish culture," she
said. "But I felt insulated and surrounded by the fear that
everybody hates us; the world hates Jews. And something inside me
wanted to prove that wrong." So she set out to verify that
her instinct was right.
Along the way, she held jobs overseas with the BBC, Associated Press
television news and London Radio Service. She wrote for the Guardian,
the Times and the Jerusalem Post, among others
all the while searching for the diversity she felt Canada couldn't
provide. She spent six years in Israel, 10 years in England and
one in Russia, meeting new people in her career as a freelance writer,
journalist and producer.
In 2002, after a British colleague convinced her that Canada had
as much diversity as anywhere else, she returned to finally explore
the diversity Canada had to offer, but with a twist. She wanted
to explore it through the eyes of women. The combination of these
two objectives culminated in a 13-part educational/documentary TV
series called Mother Tongue.
"Once I realized that there was nothing to fear [from diversity]
and moreover that there is something we can learn from every single
culture and religion, I started thinking it would be nice to do
a TV series introducing Canadians to their neighbors," said
The result of three years' work, Mother Tongue profiles the
lives of 13 women from different cultures in Canada and their lasting
effects on their communities. From Jews to Japanese, Rwandans to
Acadians, the series highlights the legacy of strength and inspiration
these women left to their progeny.
The first instalment of the series profiles Eliza Parker, a woman
who escaped slavery in the United States in the 1800s, provided
refuge to other slaves and eventually settled in Ontario with her
family. Her great-great-granddaughter, Toni Parker, who still lives
in the same Ontario community, tells the tale.
In an episode close to her heart, Poizner also unveils the story
of Sarah Mayoff, one of the first female career pioneers in the
Montreal Jewish community of the 1940s and 1950s. Those are but
two of the powerful tales she brings to the small screen.
Poizner admits that she has always been inspired by strong female
role models, citing former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir as
one of her earliest heroines.
Of the characters her series profiles, she said, "These were
women who fought for what they believed in. They stood up and spoke
out. Most of them were ahead of their time. And I'd be happy if
these women could be role models for girls and influence their lives."
But she never forgets that her main goal is to expose cultures to
"One of the things Mother Tongue can address is ignorance,"
she noted. "I'm saying, 'Here! Meet 13 wonderful, remarkable,
inspiring women from different communities. Look how rich their
cultures are.' "
Her work done, Poizner is now ready to relax.
"I think it's going to take a little while to recharge and
get the energy to plunge into something else," she said, "but
the website has a section where people can write in with stories
about their ancestors. I'm hoping people will send them in and some
of those may inspire me to do a second series of Mother Tongue
stories of different communities."
Mother Tongue premières on Canadian Learning Television,
Monday, Sept. 12, at 6:30 p.m. with a new episode each week
for 12 weeks. To learn more about the project, visit www.mothertongue.ca.
Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf is a Toronto freelance writer.